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Life of the Venerable Mother Francisca del Espiritu Santo
Foundress of the Beaterio de Santa Catalina de Sena
                                     

Fr. Domingo Collantes, O.P. (1783)
Reference: Lives of Mother Francisca del Espiritu Santo, OP  and Mother Sebastiana de Santa Maria, O.P.

 
In Chapter XXXII of his Book of Proverbs, King Solomon earnestly directed his finest, high-polished praises and eulogies to a mannish matron whose rare fortitude was the object of the wise monarch's admiration. ("Who shall find a valiant woman. .." Proverbs 31 : 10) . He now extolled her thrift and prudent rule and direction of her home and family, or commended her circumspection in the purchase of a lot and in the planting of a vineyard with her utmost efforts and her arduous labor; or, again, he praised her liberality and mercy with the poor and needy, the agreeable blending of red and white in her flowing garments, and finally, the discretion and clemency of her speech. All these admirable assets were detected in wondrous edification in the Venerable Mother Francisca del Espiritu Santo, Foundress of our Beaterio de Santa Catalina de Sena de Manila, for all her actions and toils were always the object of high regard. In the simplicity of her ways and in her adverse tribulations anyone could find the showy blending of her white and red. In her pleasant affability and great prudence in her rule over the "beaterio" one might find combined her clemency, discretion, and prudent economy in the management of her family. In her great compassion for the poor and the needy, one could uncover that heroic liberality which appealed so deeply to King Solomon. Finally, in her choice of a religious profession and in the foundation of the "beaterio", one would notice her circumspection in the purchase of the site and her eagerness in the establishment of her vineyard.

The Venerable Mother was a native of the City of Manila, and she spent the early years of her youth in the state of matrimony, but with such seclusion and retirement that she evoked the virtuous Joan of Portugal, who with regal ostentation covered up the grave austerity and severe mortification of her life. In the bloom of her youth she lost her husband and having been bereft of offspring, she devoted herself totally to the practice of spiritual exercises and to the rigors of self-mortification, as well as mental prayer and frequent reception of the Sacraments with admirable perseverance to her soul's profit. Her home seemed not the habitation of secular people, but the dwelling place of the most recluse religious, for her retirement and practice of spiritual exercises in vocal and mental prayer, made her home look like a chapel rather than an ordinary house inhabited by laymen. She manifested since then her charitable compassion for the poor and the needy, for having little enough to cover her own needs, she deprived herself of it just to extend help to her neighbors. She often visited the San Juan de Dios Hospital in the ardor of charity, bringing food to the poor patients and helping them to eat herself. Mother Francisca's deeds inspired other ladies to do her work of charity, which she continued doing even after donning the habit of a "beata". At sight of her great work of charity, the prelates of the church could not begrudge her the permit she needed for the foundation of the "beaterio".


Notwithstanding her spiritual activities, Mother Francisca wished to profess her religious vows to God. She redoubled her prayers beseeching the Lord to guide her on the path He willed for her to tread. For a long while she lived in perplexity, doubting if she should wear the habit of St. Francis or that of our cherubic patriarch, St. Dominic. Great was her devotion for both Saints- the first, St. Francis, because she bore his name; and the second, St. Dominic, because she frequented his church where she often received the Sacraments. Her perplexity deprived her of peace of mind in the practice of her many spiritual activities; thus she recoursed to the Blessed Virgin Mary for help, through her Rosary, and the Blessed Mother granted her prayers by taking her out of her state of perplexity in the following manner. One night at her prayers beseeching the Lord to help her make a decision, she beheld St. Francis and St. Dominic in a vision, each one beckoning to her, as what happened to St. Rose of Santa Maria. Both saints caressed and attracted Francisca tenderly; and impulsively she knelt at the feet of St. Dominic giving herself entirely to him and offering to be his daughter, at which the vision disappeared.

In the clear light of this vision, Francisca requested the habit of a tertiary. Her vocation well tested, she was easily admitted into the order between 1682 and 1683. The Lord granted her all her desires, as she was destined to be the bedrock of the "beaterio" in spite of repeated obstacles and contradictions. Francisca then dedicated herself with renewed zeal to the serious exercises of her religion, observing the Rule and Constitution and by-laws to the letter. She increased her acts of mortification, her vocal and mental prayers, and practiced control and obedience to her prelates and confessors so as to deny herself completely and depend upon the slightest wishes of her superiors.

But though she observed an utter seclusion so as to set a good example to Manila citizens, she desired with sheer longing to turn away from all contact with others, and thus imitated Blessed Margaret of Savoy, preferring a life of recollection and retirement of the blessed to the common trends of the laity. She succeeded in fulfilling her desire after several years. Though there were tertiaries, who joining together, lived in a community, Mother Francisca was always one among them.


Even in this state, the Venerable Mother manifested great zeal in the observance of the rules and for the greater honor and glory of God, so that her opinions were highly regarded when any aspirant came along to request the habit of the Order. Still unsatisfied with this kind of life she insisted upon the foundation of the "beaterio" wherein she could profess a totally austere and religious existence. Her trials and difficulties had started much earlier as the previous volume narrates, yet she desired them all and though against the wishes of the prelates, she stubbornly insisted upon her desire. Once after confession she expressed this desire to Fr. Juan de Sto. Domingo regarding the foundation of the Beaterio, and somewhat displeased the Father reprimanded her for her "impertinence". But all undaunted, she prophetically declared, "Father Prior, the "beaterio" will be established and your reverence will see it." She sounded so sure of her words that the Father was rather confused. He asked her whether the foundation had come to her as a revelation from the Holy Spirit. Seeing her blush, Fr. Sto. Domingo discontinued his questioning. Yet, just as she had predicted, the "beaterio" was founded and Fr. Sto. Domingo was able to see it, and what is more, almost unconsciously he worked hardest to obtain Mother Francisca's desire.

The "beaterio" founded, Mother Francisca, was considered its foundress and first prioress until her death. Her exemplary life, zeal in the regular observance, self-mortification, and other virtues that shone in her and made effective her management of the "beaterio", resting upon her great honor of a promising future for that new vineyard, with her as its custodian. She was first in the accomplishment of the religious functions to which she added many others of her own initiative. All her free time she devoted to prayer in the choir, day and night. The Lord favored her with a liberal hand, granting her benefits and instructing her in the way to achieve certain accomplishments which presented difficulties. One of them was the joining of the "beaterio" to San Juan de Letran through a passageway between the two houses. Mother Francisca had wished to have the Blessed Sacrament in the chapel, but not having obtained permission for it, she thought to have the passageway leading to Letran College. This was also the object of opposition, but the Lord granted her wish by knocking at the head of her bed which was close to the Letran choir. Knowing this to be God's expression of approval for her wish, she repeated her request to her confessor and the Provincial, and her problem was solved and her desire finally granted.

Charity and love of God reigned supreme in Mother Francisca, according to Fr. Sto. Domingo who observed her greater zeal in dealing with the poor grows deeper in spite of her success at founding the "beaterio". She practiced greater abstinence so as to save some more food for her poor. Any affliction that others suffered aggrieved her especially those that affected her Sisters in the community. For all her privations she still preserved her affability and clemency.


She tempered this clemency with a high discretion. One of her carnal sisters fell ill and she was not given treatment in her cell, but in the infirmary instead. Though the nuns were despoiled later of their habits when they were transferred to Sta. Potenciana College, Mother Francisca did not consent to the neglect of the observance of the rules of the community. It was very edifying to see the community members practicing the rules as if they had been in their own cloisters. Her great care in their practice exasperated some beatas" who turned cold to the fulfillment of their duties as religious. The Mother was obliged to reprimand them, because their conduct required it. Our Lord, however, permitted her patience to be tested further, for the discontented "beatas" judged Mother Francisca as harsh and over rigorous. One of them complained to the Archbishop of the extreme sternness of Mother Francisca. This led to the "beatas" expulsion and the closing of the "beaterio". This was a severe blow dealt on the foundress, who saw destroyed in a moment what took years to build. In spite of this affliction, Mother Francisca showed herself patient and tolerant and incessantly requested the other Sisters that they pray to the Lord for the good of all, forgetting the offense that was directed against her. She showed the same compassion and solicitude to another "beata ", who, bored with the grind of community spiritual exercises in the Sta. Potenciana College, tried to get away from Mother Francisca's community. It was not possible, in spite of persuasion and diligence, to make her retain her vocation so that she returned to secular life. Mother Francisca condoled with her and asked for the intercession of the Blessed Virgin, so that she might save the "stray sheep" from the path of perdition. Thus did Mother Francisca repay all those who maligned her with a good turn and a serene heart in the midst of blows and stabs from ungrateful souls. The "beaterio" was soon reestablished through the prayers of Mother Francisca and her perseverance amidst adversities and hard labor, with which she assured the safety of her vineyard. She then offered ampler proof of her humility which elevated her work to the highest perfection. Once she would have renounced her capacity as prioress and would have preferred to be a subordinate, but her high sense of duty and obedience led her to carry her burden of responsibility until death. She was modest and chaste in her actions, in which could be detected not the slightest blot or blemish. She was a lover of silence that she was heard to talk only about what was most necessary. Often her conversation was about God, as was the case of her holy patriarch St. Dominic, who helped her greatly in her devotion to the Holy Rosary which she prayed at every hour of the day. She was gifted with prophetic ability, because her ample experience made her realize the happening of many events that she had foretold beforehand. It was this gift that made her sure of the foundation of the "beaterio" despite the opposition of the prelates and other superiors. When told that the "beaterio" could not be realized, the Venerable Mother said, "nothing can resist God", as if implying that by divine revelation God had made known to her the subsistence of the "beaterio" even if difficulties increase. And effectively, the arduous enterprise was verified as was predicted.

     The Lord preserved her life amidst much toil until her desire was fulfilled seeing the "beaterio" and Letran College united, which she longed for deeply, so that her "beatas" might have the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament at close range with a choir apt and capable for the Divine Office. Even before all this she was ill, but her tolerance covered up whatever weakness afflicted her. She was 63 years of age and her severe penitence and mortification, her rigorous fasting and untold privations added to her way downward. All this time she frequented the Sacraments, and finally seeing her end drawing near, she herself asked for Extreme Unction with courage of spirit. Fortified by the Holy Sacraments, she gave up her spirit peacefully to the Creator on August 24, 1711, leaving behind her the aroma of sanctity and renown, as the following chapter affirms.